Splinter Cell Blacklist Review

Release Date: August 23 2013 
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Developer: Ubisoft Toronto
Publisher: Ubisoft

There is a moment in Splinter Cell Blacklist, a moment of dialogue between Sam Fisher the long running franchises protagonist and Grimsdottir, Sam’s handler throughout the series, when you realise Ubisoft’s sixth instalment in the franchise finally gets everything right and they know it.

Grimsdottir who’s normally very calm and controlled, the voice of reason in Sam’s ear, has gone off the reservation. She’s unsure how to proceed, afraid even, unable to give Sam clear instructions on how to proceed because of what they’ve just discovered. She’s overwhelmed and Sam can see the situation is quickly unravelling. It’s here where Sam, whilst embedded deep behind enemy lines and with time quickly running out, has to think on his feet. He begins reeling off his plan as he spins around, back and forth covering the corners, the windows and doors assessing his surroundings. Grimsdottir isn’t convinced the plan will succeed and before she has chance to talk Sam out of it, he’s found his exit strategy and strides forward uttering the immortal line…… “You forgot who you’re talking to?”.

It’s this one line that Ubisoft may as well have been aiming at us, the gamer as much as they were Grimdottir. For those like me who’ve followed Sam since his first foray into the shadows back in 2002 on the original Xbox, you’ll probably agree that although every release in the Splinter Cell franchise has been good, until now only one has been heralded as truly great – Chaos Theory. This has been largely due to Ubisoft trying to build upon their superb stealth gameplay mechanics with equally impressive action gameplay. 

2010’s Splinter Cell: Conviction was the culmination of Ubisoft’s new direction, which resulted in mixed reviews. It was received well enough but everyone was in agreement that it was simply too action heavy and sacrificed too many of the series well established stealth mechanics. Sam had lost his way as well as some of his identity too, and as more and more time passed since Chaos Theory it was getting harder and harder to see the Sam Fisher that reignited the stealth genre back in 2002. Well it’s been three years since Splinter Cell: Conviction, and whatever Ubisoft has been doing within the walls of their Toronto development studio, it’s clearly been time well spent.

Splinter Cell Blacklist now introduces three modes of play, but these are dynamic. Rather than you selecting a particular mode, you play how you want and it genuinely works. One style isn’t any more or less effective than the other. You might think whilst hiding in the shadows surrounded by the enemy that the silent approach is just too risky. This calls for some guns blazing action, and at first it may seem easy, but the adaptive AI and the implementation of enemy backup, which sometimes doubles if not triples the number of enemies you face, soon makes you reassess your approach.

The three dynamic game modes are referred to as Ghost, Panther and Assault. Ghost measures your ability to complete objectives without killing a soul or even raising an alarm. You’re like a ghost, you were never there, or were you? Panther measures similar stats, you complete objectives without raising alarms or alerting anyone, but you can dispatch your foes with lethal efficiency. They aren’t just taking a nap this time, you're straight up murdering the enemy albeit with Sam’s classic stealthy ruthless style. Assault is the complete opposite of both the Ghost and Panther play styles, here your combat stats are measured. You’ve no time for subtlety, just slap a breach charge on that door and charge in guns blazing, and why not lob a few grenades for good measure whilst you’re at it.

It’s this dynamic combination of the three gameplay styles that makes Blacklist without a doubt the best game of the franchise, rivalling even the mighty Chaos Theory in this humble reviewer’s opinion. After completing each mission you’re debriefed and your actions are all broken down into the three categories of play. The Splinter Cell perfectionists out there will do their upmost to score maximum points as the Ghost operative, but thanks to a healthy selection of gear unlocks and customisation options there is every incentive to replay missions either as the Panther or Assault operative.

The campaign itself spans eleven lengthy missions, each one split into four to five sections, they genuinely are lengthy too. During your debriefing you are rewarded for completing missions within a certain amount of time, normally around the sixty five minute mark although some are as high as eighty minutes. So if you’re going for the Ghost accolade you’ll not only need to be patient but efficient too. 

I won’t go into too much detail regarding the main campaign as I feel it would be more enjoyable and have a greater impact if you’re able to go into it without any prior knowledge. What I will say however is that the story is fantastic, blisteringly well-paced, well written and reminiscent of the TV show 24 staring Kiefer Sutherland. 

With what is possibly the best single player campaign Ubisoft have crafted within the Splinter Cell universe comes sixteen side missions. These are given to you at different times during the campaign by various characters and can be completed at any time. The missions vary from taking down a terrorist cell to tapping communications at an embassy. What makes them standard out is that these particular missions can not only be played solo, but also cooperatively, either split screen or online. That brings the total number of missions up to a whooping twenty seven, which is the most we’ve seen in any Splinter Cell game thus far.

I guess at this point it’s only fair after giving Ubisoft’s latest instalment such praise is that we address the elephant in the room. Michael Ironside is no longer the voice of Sam Fisher, but you know what you won’t notice. You’ll become so caught up in Blacklists tale of espionage and terrorism, not to mention Eric Johnson does such a fantastic job of making Sam his own, that after a few minutes you honestly won’t notice.

Splinter Cell Blacklist represents a fantastic return to the franchises classic gameplay, but at the same time revolutionises the series by successfully marrying together both its well established stealth mechanics with truly satisfying action gameplay. As a result Ubisoft have crafted a game that encourages replay through its three different styles of play, couple this with a vast array of customization options, an addictive cooperative mode, competitive online mode and you end up with one of the best games of 2013. If you had any doubts about Sam’s latest adventure, let me put them to rest. Sam Fisher is back and he’s better than ever.


Words by Chris Messenger